SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California prison inmate pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to steal more than $100,000 in unemployment benefits designed to help those who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among those perpetrating $810 million of COVID fraud in the state was Alana Powers, 45, an inmate at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, and Jason Vertz, 51, of Fresno. Each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.READ MORE: One Dead, 3 Injured In Horrific Richmond I-80 Chain Reaction Crash
Prosecutors said emails and recorded phone calls show Powers and other prison inmates provided Vertz with the personal identifying information he needed to submit the unemployment applications.
The applications said the inmates had worked as maids, cleaners, welders and in other occupations. However, none were eligible for the benefits because they were in prison.READ MORE: One Dead In 'Suspicious' Early Morning Cupertino House Fire
Powers and Vertz could each face more than 20 years in prison when they are sentenced on July 6.
Two state audits earlier this year said multiple mistakes by the state Employment Development Department allowed massive fraud that included paying benefits to prison inmates, including some on California’s death row.
California lawmakers are advancing legislation that would require the department to crosscheck unemployment applications with inmate records to identify fraudulent claims — something auditors said is already done by at least 35 other states.MORE NEWS: Santa Rosa 19-Year-Old On Probation Accused Of Possessing 'Ghost Gun', Cocaine
© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.